The night Donald Trump became the likely Republican nominee, the people trying to stop him were scattered, unsure and mostly silent.
The most prominent GOP elder statesman, Mitt Romney, put out a one-sentence statement thanking Ted Cruz, two months after he gave a speech urging the party to reject Trump.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who just six hours before tweeted “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed.......and we will deserve it,” followed with this Tuesday: “Great effort by the @TedCruz campaign to offer Republicans an alternative to Donald Trump and fight for conservatism.”
Multiple GOP operatives – most staying anonymous – told MSNBC they were "voting for Hillary." Earlier in the day, John McCain’s former presidential campaign manager said as much publicly.
The #NeverTrump group said it will keep working to “distinguish his demagoguery from that of the conservative cause.” Our Principles PAC said it would “continue to educate voters.”
“The Club for Growth PAC has been proud to stand with Senator Ted Cruz and the principled campaign he has run for president,” said David McIntosh, Club for Growth Action president.
As the evening wore on, those left still discussing options for stopping Trump mentioned a potential tussle over the platform at the Cleveland convention, particularly over policy. “Economic conservatives, national security conservatives, they now have no place in the Republican Party,” said one longtime GOP hand who predicted at least some intra-party fighting in Cleveland.
The overall goal was starting to crystallize: keep the Senate in Republican hands—and try to preserve some semblance of what’s been (previously?) thought of as the Republican Party.
The groups will still have their work cut out for them.
While Trump might open up opportunities for Republicans in traditionally Democratic Rust Belt states, he also could be a nightmare for Republican Senate candidates in more diverse swing states across the country. A recent web video from Conner Eldridge, who’s running in a relative long shot race against GOP Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, splices together a series of comments Trump has made about women to devastating effect.
Sen. John McCain seemed frustrated Tuesday night in a phone call with NBC News, when he reiterated his plans to support the nominee and not to attend the Cleveland convention because he would be campaigning for re-election – likely against a female Democratic opponent. McCain did say he’d advise Trump on foreign policy if Trump asked him to.
The official Republican Party seemed ready to acquiesce – and the Trump campaign was accelerating conversations about convention planning, fundraising and other activities typically reserved for the presumptive nominee.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Tuesday that Trump “will be presumptive @GOP nominee, we all need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton #NeverClinton,”
What’s still not clear is whether Trump will run neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in a close election and put more states in play for Republicans, or if his deep unpopularity will be irreversible, especially with women and minorities, making it impossible for him to win a general election.
Most Stop Trump operatives still believe it’s the latter. And if that becomes obvious, said one, “At what point does Reince Priebus begin to look like Baghdad Bob?”